Get Into the Puzzly Swing of Things with Swinger!

Puzzles are infinitely adaptable. They’ve gone from riddles to pen and paper puzzles to mechanical puzzles made of wood, steel, plastic, and onward into video games, and now, apps on your phone. More puzzle apps than ever before are available on all platforms; it’s the new frontier of puzzle-games.

One of the puzzle apps that has recently been making some waves in the online market is Swinger, an addictive little puzzly delight.

In Swinger, your goal is to capture the little blue sparkling objects known as balls. To do so, you must tag them with a swinging arm that moves back and forth at your command.

Tap on one of those green rings to anchor one end of your swinger, and it will circle that ring like the spoke of a bicycle wheel. You can tap that same green ring to change direction, swinging your swinger back and forth as needed.

Navigate the ever-changing landscape of green rings to capture the balls, but be careful to avoid the obstacles that crop up over time, because they’ll block your swinger and damage your overall score.

A fun mix of quick reflexes and clever strategy, Swinger is all about adapting to your environment. Timing is key as your swinger swings toward each blue ball, before you tap another ring to move it, either to avoid one of the obstacles or to snag the next ball on the screen. You might even find yourself flipping the grid around in order to jump your swinger from one ring to another!

The concept is simple, but the gameplay grows increasingly complex with each passing screen as the obstacles become more bothersome and the swinger varies in size from ring to ring.

It’s an interesting mechanic that I haven’t seen in app form before. (For long-time video game fans, it has the feel of advanced platform games like Bionic Commando, Ratchet & Clank, or Super Mario Galaxy!)

Swinger is available from PiPiPass Studios on Google Play for Android devices.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Less

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There are many games out there that pair nicely with food or drink. Many party games even revolve around this mechanic, like Jason Anarchy’s alcohol-fueled roleplaying game Drinking Quest.

But I think Less is the first game where the playing tiles intentionally double as coasters for your drinks. It feels like a game that could be played in a tavern at a moment’s notice, which lends its minimalist style an old-world gaming charm.

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But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Less is a strategy game that combines the tactical planning of chess with the dynamic maneuverability of checkers.

The game consists of 12 tiles and 8 game pieces, 4 white and 4 black. The players randomly select 9 of the 12 tiles and arrange a 3×3 game board. (With 12 tiles and four ways to place each tile, you’re virtually guaranteed a different game board every time you play.)

One player sets up their 4 game pieces in one corner, and the other player sets up their game pieces in the opposite corner. The goal of the game is to move all 4 of your pieces into your opponent’s corner before your opponent can occupy your corner.

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To do so, you are allowed three moves per turn. You can use all three moves for a single game piece, or spread them out over multiple game pieces. Moving a piece from one square to a neighboring square is one move. Jumping over a game piece to the next open square is also one move. (Here’s where checkers-style planning comes in handy.)

By now, you’ve probably noticed those blue walls on some of the tiles. Those walls require an extra move to traverse, so moving a game piece over a wall requires two moves. (And if neighboring squares each have a wall between them, jumping that double wall requires all three moves that turn.)

This three-move system offers players loads of options going forward, but your best bet is to arrange a sequence of leapfrog jumps to move your pieces as efficiently as possible across the board. (Unlike chess or checkers, there is no capturing or removing your opponent’s pieces from the board.)

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[Here, black has more pieces near the opposing corner, but that blue wall will make it harder to occupy the corner efficiently. Meanwhile, more of white’s pieces are farther away, but there are fewer obstacles to slow those pieces down.]

Mixing a tactical approach with the improvisation that comes with reacting to your opponent’s movements makes Less a very engaging gaming experience, even if a game routinely lasts less than ten minutes. And on the puzzle side of things, figuring out the most efficient way to navigate a path toward your opponent’s corner is great fun, since every game is different, and your opponent has different obstacles to tackle than you do, given the random placement of walls on the board.

Plus, if you’re willing to invest in two copies of the game, you can play with four players, as you and your partner coordinate your efforts across a 4×4 game board in the hopes of occupying your opponents’ corners first.

It’s a game that takes a few minutes to learn and offers near-infinite replayability. It might be called Less, but it feels like a very complete, very satisfying challenge.

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Less is published by InventedFor and is available online at less-game.com (with numerous coaster designs for the reverse side of the tiles). Click here for full details.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Strata Sphere

In today’s product review, we look at a puzzle game with a simple premise: get your spheres from the top level of the grid to the bottom before your opponent does. All that stands between you and victory? Four levels of sliding walls and a wily opponent.

Today, we tackle the multi-layered challenge of Strata Sphere.

Strata Sphere is a puzzle game for two players that challenges you to outthink and outmaneuver your opponent in order to get your four spheres through the grid first. Imagine the gravity-fueled fun of Ker-Plunk with the chain-reaction planning of chess, and you’ve got something approximating Strata Sphere.

This game is all about tactics and adaptation. First, you and your opponent take turns placing the twelve sliders into the grid. There are four levels to the grid, each level accommodating three sliders.

As you can see, some of the sliders have holes in different places, and others have no holes at all. Placement of these sliders is only part one of the game, but it’s a crucial one.

Once all twelve sliders are in place, the players choose their color spheres (red or black), and take turns placing them into the columns atop the grid, one sphere per column.

[As you can see, some of the spheres have already dropped to level 2,
thanks to the placement of holes in several of the sliders in level 1.]

Now the real strategy begins, because with each turn, a player may select any slider and pull it out of the grid one notch. (Each slider has three notches, allowing it to interact with three different columns.) As the game progresses, players can also push sliders in one notch.

Whether the slider moves out of the way of a sphere or moves a hole into place so a sphere may drop through, each move has the potential to drop a sphere a level (or two!) closer to freedom.

After one or two games, we actually ended up putting the game on a lazy susan, so we could rotate it, observe the grid more easily, and gain better access to all the sliders.

This form of three-dimensional puzzle-solving is a real challenge, because you’re not just dealing with your opponent’s next move, you’re dealing with all the setup (slider placement, sphere placement) that preceded it. Here’s where your ability to adapt comes into play, because all that strategy can go completely out the window at a moment’s notice.

Tension ratchets up quickly as you and your opponent maneuver back and forth, manipulating the sliders and helping gravity guide your spheres through the grid and toward the open tray below. The first player to free all four of their spheres wins.

Strata Sphere is a puzzle game that’s easily explained to younger players, but one that offers a great deal of complexity for older players as well, taxing your tactical abilities, spatial awareness, and your ability to seize unexpected opportunities when they arise.

Being forced to take turns makes long-term planning more difficult, and the four levels of gameplay will push your visualization skills to the max. (Planning out moves on a chess board is one thing, the multi-tiered slider system of Strata Sphere is quite another.)

The gameplay is engaging, the design is simple and elegant, and I daresay there’s no more satisfying sound than the click of a well-earned sphere hitting the tray, freed. What a treat.

Strata Sphere is for ages 8 and up, available now from Family Games America.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Tak•tak

When it comes to strategy puzzle games, no matter how complex or how simple the actual game mechanics, the game itself hinges on the two players involved. After all, two extremely tactical puzzlers can make checkers look like chess.

Now, imagine a game that combines the pattern-matching of Uno, the strategy of chess, and the mechanics of Upwords, and adds a scoring element to boot. It might sound complicated, but I promise, it’s as simple as checkers.

Tak•tak is a two-player strategy scoring game designed by the folks at Twizmo Games, and it’s another puzzle game brought to life thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign. Although Twizmo Games is best known for twisty puzzles (or Rubik’s Cube-style puzzles), they’ve taken a strong step into the traditional board game market with Tak•tak.

Each player starts with 12 tiles, each tile bearing a different score (10, 20, 30, or 40) and a different color (green, blue, or yellow). The two rows nearest the player form that player’s safe zone. The three rows in the middle are the war zone.

Your goal is to get as many points as possible into your opponent’s safe zone by stacking your tiles, crossing the war zone, and either capturing or maneuvering around your opponent’s tiles. You can only move forward (either straight or diagonally), so this is a game about tactics and initiative.

You build your stacks by matching either point values or colors. For instance, you can stack a yellow 20 and a yellow 40, or a yellow 30 and a green 30, and either of those new stacks would represent 60 points. This enables you to move more tiles around the board quickly. (But careful: once you’ve stacked tiles, they stay stacked for the rest of the game.)

But those matching rules also apply to your opponent’s tiles! When you and your opponent cross paths in the war zone, you can stack your tiles onto theirs and steal those points for yourself. (The stacks you make from your own tiles can only go three tiles high, but stacks made from your tiles AND your opponent’s tiles can go as high as you want! Heck, a stack might change owners several times and tower over the game board!)

The game ends when one player has no more available moves. (There are other ways to end the game if you choose to use the advanced game play rules, but we’ll stick with the basic rules for now.) And then it’s time to count your tiles.

You earn points for all of the tiles you’ve moved into your opponent’s safe zone (including any of your opponent’s tiles that are in stacks you control), plus points for any tiles your opponent never moved into the war zone. (Meaning they were never “in play.”) Highest score wins!

Tak•tak builds a lot of versatility and play possibilities into a game with checkers-simple mechanics, and the more you play, the more fun it is to delve deeper into tactics and strategy. It was worth losing 50 points for keeping a few tiles in my safe zone when they prevented a stack of my opponent’s tiles from scoring.

The clever mix of classic game-play elements not only makes Tak•tak so easy to dive into, but also ensures new players can more time actively playing and less time worrying about learning the rules (a common downfall for more complicated strategy games).

The designers claim the game is appropriate for ages 8 through 108, and I think they’re right on the money.


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